Wednesday, October 04, 2006

ENV: San Marcos ES

Via Mike Quinn

City receives federal grant for land preservation
By Katie Reed, Special to The Star

The city of San Marcos received a $1 million dollar federal land grant last week, which will contribute to the city’s effort of purchasing and preserving 251 acres of land located just above the San Marcos River headwaters off of Aquarena Springs Drive.

City Manger Dan O’Leary said there was discussion of building homes and other developments on the land within the past few years. O’Leary said some people were opposed to development plans because of the effects they would have on the San Marcos River and the endangered species that inhabit the area.

Melanie Howard, San Marcos Parks and Recreation watershed protection manager, said development of the land would have a negative effect on San Marcos’ water quality.

“The land is in the watershed of Spring Lake, which drains into the San Marcos springs. If it were developed, it would decrease water quality in Spring Lake via surface runoff, as well as increase erosion and sedimentation,” Howard said. “Also, it is in the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, so development would contribute to contamination of the aquifer.”

She said the development of the land would not only have a negative impact on the natural springs, but it would also harm the many endangered species such as the Texas blind salamander and the Comal Springs riffle beetle.

However, O’Leary said preserving the land will help protect these species and their habitats.

“The people of San Marcos decided to put the land on the ballot and ask voters if they were willing to keep it in its natural state,” O’Leary said. “It passed overwhelmingly. After that, all of the efforts started moving forward in order to purchase the land from the owners who originally planned to build on it.”

To acquire ownership of the land, San Marcos officials turned to the Nature Conservancy, an organization that is dedicated to protecting plants, animals, land and water, O’Leary said.

“The Nature Conservancy specializes in obtaining land just like this in order to help preserve it,” O’Leary said. “They were brought in to help broker the deal, and they currently own the land now.”

The Nature Conservancy purchased the land for $5 million from developer Terry Gilmore in May. San Marcos is currently raising money to buy the land back from the Nature Conservancy by the spring of next year.

“In order to get the $1 million grant, we went to the federal agencies and made our case,” O’Leary said. “We talked of the importance of the land and it’s animals, and they could immediately see why the area needed to be protected. It wasn’t a difficult sell. The project sold itself.”

Jeff Francell, director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy, said numerous efforts are being made to raise money for the city.

“We are working with the city, county, Texas State University and the Rivers Institute on several grant applications in order to raise the rest of the money for the city to buy the land back,” Francell said.

In addition to the recent $1 million grant, San Marcos gave $2 million, and the citizens of Hays County also contributed $700,000 to the effort, leaving the city $1.3 million short of the amount needed to buy the land.

O’Leary said once San Marcos buys the land from the Nature Conservancy, the area will be kept in its natural state to be used as a park.

“The deal is that San Marcos will purchase the land back to be preserved as park land forever,” O’Leary said. “There will probably be some trails and park amenities on the land for San Marcos residents to enjoy.”

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